Published on August 02, 2022

Sun exposure: Where’s the happy medium?

Woman outside wearing wide brimmed hat

The sun has many effects on our bodies—good and bad. But do the risks outweigh the benefits? Our bodies need vitamin D and other health benefits we gain from the sun, but we also know the sun’s rays can be harmful to our skin, so where is the happy medium?

Vitamin D is important for developing and maintaining healthy bones, supporting immune health, muscle function and brain cell activity. We receive a small amount of vitamin D from some of the foods we eat, such as eggs, mushrooms, fortified milk and cereal, but our bodies produce most of our vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun, which is why it is referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.”

We know our bodies need vitamin D to thrive, but that’s not the sun's only health benefit. Do you feel like sunshine improves your mental health? That’s not just in your head—the sun’s rays increase serotonin which makes people happy, relieves stress and improves sleep.

Finding balance with sun exposure

The sun’s rays can undoubtedly be harmful—causing sunburn, wrinkles and sometimes, skin cancer. When the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays hit your skin, it changes your DNA. Over time, those changes can lead to skin cancer. Proper timing is key to getting the Vitamin D your body needs while minimizing harmful exposure to the sun’s rays.

Most individuals should aim for roughly 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure three times per week for their body to produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D. The more skin that is exposed, the more vitamin D your body produces. Remember to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, a hat to cover your face and you should avoid the sun’s most harmful rays between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Protecting your skin

Terry Larimer, PA-C, Dermatology, Ridgeview, states, “Moderating sun exposure over a lifetime is important for healthy skin.” To prevent skin cancer, Ridgeview dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen daily, a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen—at minimum SPF 30—and reapply every two hours when outdoors—more often if you’re swimming or perspiring. Your skin absorbs energy from the sun. When you apply sunscreen, it serves to absorb this energy rather than your skin absorbing it.

According to Ridgeview dermatologists, those with a history of excessive sun exposure, many sunburns, or personal or family history of skin cancer should establish a relationship with a dermatologist to have regular skin checks and learn the warning signs of skin cancer.

Ridgeview’s Dermatology team provides diagnosis and clinical treatment for a full range of skin, hair and nail conditions. Schedule an appointment with a Ridgeview provider.